Press watchdog calls for dropping charges against Egyptian journalist

The Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), an international media watchdog, appealed on Thursday to Egyptian Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali to drop criminal charges against two journalists from a weekly independent newspaper.

Ghali had filed the charges against Wael el-Ibrashy, editor-in-chief of Sawt al-Umma, and Samar el-Dawi, a reporter, whom he accused of inciting the public to reject a new property tax law drafted by the government in 2009. The new law requires owners to submit property evaluations to the Finance Ministry in order to to determine how much they would be taxed. The law was criticized in the press by a number of journalists, politicians, and economic analysts.

“We urge the Minister of Finance to drop the criminal charges against Wael el-Ibrashy and Samar el-Dawi,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. “The provision under which our colleagues are being charged and the fact that they are to be tried in a criminal court strongly suggests that the government is intent on punishing critical journalists for their work.”

In one of his articles, el-Ibrashy challenged the new law’s constitutional validity, arguing that it imposes a burden on average citizens, while el-Dawi quoted a legal expert who predicted the law would be overturned by Egypt’s Constitutional Court.

On 14 June, a Cairo appeal court ordered el-Ibrashy and el-Dawi to appear before the Criminal Court next month to face legal proceedings for “inciting the public to disobey to the law”, a charge included under Article 177 of the penal code.

El-Ibrashy told the CPJ this was the first time Article 177 has been applied in a press-related case. The committee, for its part, said its research confirms the article has been mainly to prosecute armed and militant groups in the past.

This is not El-Ibrashy first encounter with legal restrictions on press freedom. He had received a one-year prison sentence from a different court in 2007, along with three other chief editors of independent and opposition party newspapers, for “publishing false information that disturbed public order”. All four were eventually fined LE20,000 each after an appeal court dropped the charges.

Many editors of local independent and opposition newspapers expressed their solidarity with el-Ibrashy and el-Dawi, and called on President Hosni Mubarak to fulfill his longstanding promise, made in 2004 and repeated numerous times since, to respect press freedom and teminate prison sentences for convicted journalists.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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